Heyneke Meyer says the Springboks will need more than one outstanding No 10 option at the 2015 World Cup and that Pat Lambie needs game time sooner rather than later, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.
There’s been a notable backlash following the selection of Lambie at flyhalf for the Test against Twickenham on Saturday. Meyer has been criticised for a perceived loss of faith in Handré Pollard. The Bok coach has also copped flak for travelling to Europe with a predetermined plan to start Pollard against Ireland, and Lambie against England, regardless of what transpired in Dublin.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Meyer explained that this strategy forms part of the team’s preparation for the 2015 World Cup. He gave a strong impression that Pollard is still the anointed one, the favourite to wear the No 10 jersey at that global tournament.
However, as Meyer was at pains to stress, Lambie and Morné Steyn will also have some role to play over the next 12 months, and need game time as well as exposure to northern hemisphere conditions before September 2015.
The Boks are coming off a particularly poor performance against Ireland. The pack won the majority of their set pieces, but lacked grunt at the collisions and breakdowns.
Halfbacks Francois Hougaard and Pollard were on the back foot as a result, and made a series of costly errors. Most will draw the conclusion that these players have been dropped to the bench because of their poor showing in Dublin.
Meyer, however, said that this is not the case.
‘There are no scapegoats,’ said the Bok coach. ‘We had always planned to keep the same 23 together for these two Tests. I told the players [before the tour] who was going to start, and so the performance against Ireland, while disappointing, has not influenced my selections.
‘This tour was always going to be about seeing what is at our disposal. I will never accept losing, but I have to see what some of these players can do in these conditions before the World Cup.
'Thirty-one players will go to that tournament, and it’s encouraging to know that we have a good squad on tour, and that a lot more quality players will be back [having recovered from injuries] next year. What I need to see now is how certain players go in these conditions. I will know who 80% of that World Cup squad is after these two games.’
Meyer identified Pollard as a special talent while the youngster was still at school. On Wednesday, he reassured the media that he still believes Pollard is the man to take South African rugby forward.
He added that the Boks will need more than one flyhalf option when they travel to England in 2015. Lambie, who hasn’t started for the Boks since the Test against Scotland in November 2013, deserves a chance.
‘Handré is close to being the best 10 in the world, but Pat has more experience, and we felt this would be key for this particular game against England,' said Meyer.
'I always said that I wanted to give Pat a start on this tour, and we really want to win at Twickenham. We have also factored in that Cobus Reinach and Jan Serfontein, the men on either side of the flyhalf, don’t have a lot of experience at this level. So we didn’t want to go into such a big game with three inexperienced players at 9,10 and 12.
‘Handré is the future star and I haven’t lost faith in him. I have to manage guys like Handré in the buildup to the World Cup, and I also have to look at other options.
‘Morné is also still very much in my plans,’ Meyer continued, when asked about another of his protégés. ‘The thing with Morné is that I know what I have in him. I’ve seen what he can do. I have to look at these other two 10s and see what they offer.’
The pressure is on Lambie to produce an accurate tactical-kicking performance this weekend. England haven’t been particularly good in this area, but the Boks are determined to narrow the gap between themselves and the best kicking side on the planet, the All Blacks.
‘Our tactical-kicking game and our contestable kicking hasn’t been great of late, so I’m also looking for an improvement,' said Meyer. 'We are not happy with our performance against Ireland. We never play well in the wet and that is a worry.’
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